Thursday, December 3, 2009

'Tis the Season for Christmas Pageants

Many of us religious folks in industrialized nations are getting ready for Christmas pageants. Ah Christmas, that time of year when we get back in touch with our Drama Geek selves! If we're part of a church with a budget, we might find ourselves building sets, creating the lighting and music, and maybe even wrangling a live animal or two.

The rest of us must be content with stuffed animals and a minimalist set.

I've noticed that Christmas pageants tend to bring out the perfectionist in many grown ups. We fret over the acting ability of our church youth. We try to decide how much to resist the secularization of this season. I've heard of pageants in churches that utilize Santa Claus, but thankfully, I've never been subjected to this kind of torture.

Christmas pageants always make me think of my own youthful experiences, where I longed to be chosen to be Mary, but I was always too tall, too blond, too loud, too rambunctious--too much myself and not the vision that the grown ups had for Mary.

I wrote a poem about it all, which I post below for your reading pleasure. It was first published in The South Carolina Review, and then later, I included it in my chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.

Medieval Christmas Pageants

The Sunday School pageant director embraced
the medieval ideals. Mary would have dark
hair and a pure soul. Joseph, a mousy
man who knew how to fade into the background.
Every angel must be haloed with golden
hair, and I, the greatest girl, the head
angel, standing shoulders above the others.

It could have been worse. Ugly and unruly
children had to slide into the heads and tails
of other creatures, subdued by the weight
of their costumes, while I got to lead
the processional. But I, unworldly foolish,
longed to be Mary. I cursed
my blond hair, my Slavic looks which damned
me to the realm of the angels.

I didn’t see Mary’s role for what it was: bit
player, vessel for the holy, keeper of the cosmic.
I didn’t understand the power of my position.
I could have led an angel uprising, although the history
of angel uprisings suggests that though whole new
worlds emerge, so do new tortures with the triumph.
I could have imparted messages of God’s plan,
spoiled all the surprises. I could just appear,
scaring mere mortals into submission.

Instead, I smoldered, smarting
at the indignities of mother made wings
and long robes to ruin my long legged run.
I internalized the message of the culture
which didn’t offer starring roles for girls,
no head angel power for us.
Instead, the slender, the meek, the submissive
girl got the prize, the spotlight focused
on her kneeling knees, her bowed head.
I tried not to sing too loudly, to shrink
my Teutonic bones into the Mary model.

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